Last month, a special Lawrence County resident celebrated a milestone in perseverance. On December 16, World War II veteran and Hillsboro resident Stephen Jones turned 99 years old.
Jones was born in Town Creek in 1923. On Jan. 14, 1943, he was inducted into the United States Army at Fort Benning, Ga.
“I don’t know if he was drafted or volunteered,” said Carolyn Jones Harris, Jones’ daughter. “I think he just went on his own.”
According to Dr. Jewel Satchel, a close friend of Harris, Jones served as an Army Specialist-Highway Machine Operator Semi-skilled Specialist. Satchel said Jones took part in the New Guinea campaign.
During the war, Jones was involved in everything from light skirmishes to battles. He was well-decorated for his service. The Army bestowed Jones with several honors, including service medals and a special citation: the Asiatic-Pacific Theater Medal.
Jones was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army on Nov. 29, 1944.
On his birthday, members of Central High School’s final class, the graduates of 1970, presented Jones with a service award plaque.
Harris, Satchel, Minister Doris Baker, and Lt. Col. Robert Robinson presented the award. Satchel and Baker initiated the plaque from the graduates.
“We have a very strong class,” said Harris. “We’ve been active, having class reunions and so forth ever since we’ve graduated – especially since we celebrated our 40th reunion and our 60th birthdays.
Central High’s final class has 40 to 50 active class members who keep in frequent contact, particularly to celebrate birthdays and to provide support during times of loss.
Harris emphasized Satchel and Baker’s roles in organizing the ceremony, saying they always respected her father.
“They admire my father,” said Harris. “He loves our friends. He tells them about their parents, how he knows them, and so forth, and he knows our classmates and their children. That’s how my dad is. He loves people. He’s special to all [Harris’ classmates.]
“We’re so appreciative of my friends respecting and showing honor to my dad.”
Saturday, Dec. 17, Jones’ family surprised him with a large birthday party at Red Bank Missionary Baptist.
Some of Jones’ family traveled several hours to be present for the celebration. Nieces and nephews came from Detroit and Louisville, and Harris came east from Houston.
Likewise, local family members and friends showed up in droves to celebrate with Jones. Members of Red Bank Missionary Baptist, Jones’ home church, also attended. Together, the crowd rejoiced over a life that continues to impact others.
“It was very nice,” said Carolyn Jones Harris, Jones’ daughter. “We had about 100 people there.”
Harris said Cilia McDonald, the first lady of Red Bank Missionary Baptist, and the church deacons were happy to help set up and decorate the church before the event. Harris and the family managed to keep the party a secret as they organized it.
“My dad has selected hearing,” said Harris, “because he hears what he wants to hear.
“He didn’t really know what was happening.”
Two of Jones’ cousins reside in Decatur. Due to their health issues, Harris initially wasn’t sure if they could make it to Jones’ party. But when she reached out to them, they were adamant about attending.
“When I got in touch with them to come, they said, ‘Yeah, we’re going to come and see Cousin Stephen if we don’t do anything else,’” said Harris.
“Everyone was just so excited to come.”
Even at 99, Jones’ memory remains remarkably sharp. Despite the large number of attendees, he knew each of them and took time to speak about their lives and families.
“He was just so amazed at all the people coming in and him knowing all of them,” said Harris. “He has a very good memory; nobody was there that he didn’t know. And he’d just point at them and tell them who they were or who their parents were.”
Jones continues to be involved with his church and his family. He remains on the deacon board, though he isn’t as active as he was pre-pandemic. And every chance he gets, he rides around town with a son, daughter, or granddaughter. They’ll drive past the houses of his friends and neighbors, just to be out and active.
On January 14, the Lawrence County NAACP will honor Jones at their annual MLK Breakfast. The family doesn’t know yet if Jones will attend, but Harris believes there’s a good chance he will.
“If it’s a nice day, I’m sure my brother Clifford will take him, and some of the other siblings will go as well,” said Harris. “But we’ll just have to wait and see because [the event] is at 8:30 in the morning.
“But he gets up real early anyways, and he loves to get out and put on that World War II hat.”